IT’S QUIET out there… too quiet. But there is plenty going on. Beyond the white noise of the betting markets, some supporters’ obsession with Apostelic succession and a firm belief in former favourites as serious candidates just because they have worn the shirt, Steve Gibson is taking his time over making what is probably his most important appointment since Bryan Robson.
Here’s some musings on the recruitment process.
AS THE Blackburn exocet sizzled past Jason Steele a host of Teessiders mentally struck a thick and decisive line through another name on the list.
Steve Gibson may not be so impatient but for many, Mark Venus has already fallen at the second interview stage.
When you are a caretaker living in the shadow of the departed’s perceived flaws, you have to keep winning. Harsh but true. There is no honeymoon period. For fans, continuity is not a strength if the intrinsic link is with tainted tactics that repeatedly fall short.
The cavalier demolition of Doncaster was trumped by the laboured ‘fine margins’ defeat at Ewood Park straight off the Tony Mowbray template.
Still, never mind, three more names have been thrown into the dug-out guessing game over the last few days that illustrate some of the problems in drawing up the list.
First Fabrizio Ravanelli catapulted himself into the upper reaches of the bookies’ betting by getting sacked for his abject failure in France. At the time of writing he had barged past Venus and Aitor Karanka to be the latest in a long line of red hot favourites. You can get 40s on early front-runner Tony Pulis now you know.
The fiery White Feather – he of fixtures and fittings fame – was axed from his first club Ajaccio after just one win in 12 games left the Corsican minnows second bottom. He was said to be tactically naive and overly abrasive to the players.
But hey, he used to play for Middlesbrough: Get him in Gibbo!
The emotional link with a now dimming Golden Age still has considerable currency that for some outweighs all that boring rational recruitment stuff like previous record, tactical approach or emotional stability.
Rav had already been touted as an “ideal” boss by some, presumably for his admirable team ethic and ability to motivate with a supportive gesture or word or two. Some managerial match-makers even suggested he could team up with Gianluca Festa. After all, they are both Italian so they are bound to be close personal friends. There is bound to be a philosophical synergy.
It never ceases to amaze how some fans believe that having once worn the shirt confers some mystical managerial qualities. This football Apostolic succession means Ravanelli, Graeme Souness, out of the game for a decade, and Brian Deane, in his first term of mid-table management in Norway, feature higher in the bookies reckoning than Dougie Freedman, Karl Robinson and Phil Parkinson, all of whom could put in far more fitting CVs.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to find someone, somewhere in Teesside ready to stick a very daft tenner on a Phil Stamp and Bernie Slaven dream team. With Juninho as director of football. Dean Windass is still available.
Of course, Mogga was a club icon and was widely seen as the ‘unity’ candidate when he arrived to sift through the debris of Gordon Strachan’s ill-fated Great Jockification.
But that was very much the exception rather than the rule. Mogga wasn’t given the job as a sentimental sop for his role as lunar leader of the Rioch revival. He was given it because of the impressively solid job he had done at West Brom, building an attacking team that won promotion on a budget, welding cut-price unknowns into a coherent unit.
The second name that was thrown in, rather optimistically, was that of Malky Mackay.
The Scot did a fantastic job at Watford forging the strugglers into a formidible side for peanuts then went to habitual bottle-merchants Cardiff and made them mentally tougher and far better organised and won promotion to the promised Land of the Premier League.
But now cracks are appearing in troubled City with briefing wars, behind the scenes rancour after his right-hand man was sacked and open political point-scoring between the boss and controversial owner Vincent Tan.
Naturally Boro fans now covet a managerial rising star that they have seen shoot past them in the past two years. But he is a hot property now. If he leaves Cardiff it will be as a success forced out by circumstance – and he will be wanted by other Premier League sides.
He will be pencilled in not for Boro but for Fulham, Norwich or… whisper it quietly… Newcastle when the current incumbents leave.
Similarly, there was a ripple in cyberspace over Chris Hughton. Hurray! He’s been battered seven nowt… get him in. Again, Hughton has done well at both Newcastle and Norwich but will see himself very much as being on the Premier League merry-go-round rather than the second shelf. Anyone else who gets sacked in the next week or so – yes, Martin Jol, I’m looking at you – can expect to race up to odds-on for the Boro job within 24 hours too.
The third name that popped up in the betosphere was that of former coach Steve Agnew.
It appears to have been smuggled into the reckoning on the back of some twitter-tattle and the message boards. Then when a few easily influenced people put a few bob on ‘because you never know’ the odds started to tumble and a virtual bandwagonof In The Know punters trundles down a betting cul de sac.
Aggers is a coach alongside Steve Bruce at Hull and who knows, he may fancy leaving Premier League security to have a crack in a hot-seat… but it would be a risk taking someone proven on the training ground but whose managerial record consists of back-to-back 1-0 defeats at Norwich and Forest as caretaker after Strachan left. Especially if it is just because he knows the way to Hurworth.
Good coaches are gold dust and arguably Boro could do with a few more specialists. At the back for instance. But first and foremost they also need a manager.
Steve GIbson says he is taking his time over the recruitment process because he wants to make the right appointment not a quick one. That is sensible and rational and would never be questioned in any other industry but football.
But time is pressing. And an international break is looming. And supporters are getting fidgety.Quick! Someone do something. Anything. The tension is killing us.
It is a fortnight now since Mogga was axed and Gibson will be getting to the point now where he has fine-tuned his selection criteria, drawn up his wish-list and made a few discreet inquiries through third parties. He may even have had preliminary talks with one or two.
And round about now he will be getting ready to push ahead with more detailed talks with his preferred candidates who have got through the first few filters.
So who exactly are Boro looking for? What is the remit?
We know what Gibson doesn’t want: he doesn’t want any of the tired usual suspects. He doesn’t want a Megson or Boothroyd or Curbishley. Or a Strachan. He wants hunger and ambition and drive.
And he doesn’t want a long ball merchant. A route one, robust style doesn’t fit the skills set of the squad we have and would alienate a section of the wavering crowd before the initials were printed up on the tracksuit and baseball cap.
And, unless they come from a top club and with glowing references and are a near perfect fit with the Boro’s fledgling new model, he doesn’t really want a rookie.
Bryan Robson was a success – but on a budget that blew rivals out of the water. Bruce Rioch was appointed out of financial necessity and Gareth Southgate was a gamble that ultimately failed. And Steve McClaren was a success – but how many coaches can boast helping engineer a treble and come with a letter of introduction from Fergie? It is not the norm.
And Boro are edging towards a new structure in which recruitment will not be the exclusive domain of the boss. It has been a year and more in the making. As discussed in the summer the pieces are starting to fall into place. And while in the last close season it didn’t quite pay off. things continue to develop.
Boro are slowly putting in place an extensive scouting network in Europe that runs in tandem with rapidly strengthening new links to some of the biggest clubs on the continent like Atletico Madrid and Juventus
Delegations from both have been at the Riverside this year. And this week a trio of Boro starlets – Luke Williams, Bryn Morris and Bradley Fewster are due to jet out to Madrid for an extended stay with Atletico as the link-up develops. The Under 21 and Under 18 teams will fly out next week to join them for training and to play against their Spanish counterparts. It is the first stage of what could be a productive exchange scheme.
And not just with one club. Boro are putting in place a wide network of similar links that will hopefully bear fruit in terms of securing first options on young talent.
They are cultivating links with key individuals too: Ex-Real Madrid Aitor Karanaka caused a flurry of excitement in the betting markets last week when his links to Boro popped into the public eye – he joins up some of the dots between Jorge Mendes, Peter Kenyon and point teasingly to Jose Mourinho too – but the club have nurtured strong ties with Marco Branca, sporting director at Inter Milan, and Croatian FA big wig Alen Boksic too.
Boro aim to tap into the comprehensive contacts and knowledge of all these people and clubs to bolster their scouting network and profile in the transfer market.
And with former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon helping with introductions a potentially productive set-up is evolving.
In Spain and Italy there are no reserve leagues and big teams are keen to get their players competitive action – and put them in the shop window. A years loan here. A real deal with a sell on clause there. If they excel at Boro for a season and the team benefit from their talent then are sold on then everyone’s a winner. If they don’t, well, Boro have not lost out. There is no three year contract on £10k a week to weigh the club down.
Of course the manager will still have an input into signings. He will still nominate his own targets, still be able to argue for domestic targets on a case by case basis, still outline which areas of the team need strengthening, have a say in whether to follow up scouting reports suggested by the European network,and be key in deciding between those on offer. But he won’t have the exclusive and absolute control of budget and recruitment that is seen as the norm within English football (but would be considered unusual everywhere else).
Any new manager would have to be willing to work within that framework… and plenty wouldn’t. A lot of the “name” manager mentioned wouldn’t. They would want to make their own signings, names that are tried and trusted from past clubs. That’s natural. That is the British way. But it implies yet another upheaval in personnel and tactics.
Boro are trying to find a new way that would put in place a stable, cost-effective on-going scouting and recruitment system that does not change with every manager, that will feed into the squad steadily over the years to come rather than sporadic revolutions.
It is a sensible and sustainable strategy for a club of Boro’s size but could well narrow the field when it comes to picking the next boss.
Not many top flight managers from the established conservative English dug-out culture would be comfortable with it. Many would flatly refuse. Getting the right people in is crucial to making such a system work. It will take an open-minded and confident boss who sees the benefits and is eager to take on the challenge at a club looking for a different route. An ambitious boss – probably at the early stage of his career – who wants to be part of the project.
The chairman is said to have had 100 applications from a host of would-be supremos. Plus the mandatory begging letter from Sven. And why not? It is a good gig: excellent facilities, healthy finances and a recent history and still pressing desire for of success. For all the habitual moaning within the Teesside bubble, Boro is a cracking job for someone.
Of course, 40 of those applications will have been from bedroom bosses who have taken Boro to the Champions League final on Football Manager. But haven’t we all? Of the rest another 50 won’t tick the right boxes – too young, too old, no CV, no drive, wrong tactics, wrong persona –
and a few more will price themselves out of the running.
So it is a relatively small group of bosses who will be a good fit. The ones who make it to the short-list will all be great candidates that tick a lot of boxes and will probably already have indicated an interest. Now Steve Gibson has to weigh up from that group of applicants who is the best fit in what is far from a straightforward job interview. That may explain the delay.
It is a crucial moment in the club’s development. If Boro miss this opportunity and fail to make the new model work now it could be a set-back that costs the club precious time just when the financial landscape of the game is changing radically. Get it wrong and it could condemn Boro to treading water in mid-table for an uncomfortable and frustrating future.
It is an appointment that determines how successfully the current strategy unfolds.
We need to get the right one.
****THIS is the 12 inch Boss Jobz ft A-Postelic dubstep remix of this week’s Big Picture column